What do a Super Bowl-winning athlete, a theater actress, and a former six-term Congressman have in common?
All three will be leading Birthright trips this summer run exclusively by Israel Free Spirit, the Birthright trip provider of the Orthodox Union.
Former Dallas Cowboy Allan Veingrad, part of the 1992 team that won the Super Bowl, will lead a sports-oriented trip while Peter Deutsch, a six-term congressman and the founder of the first Hebrew language charter school in America, will be directing a trip for those interested in the political side of Israel. Casey Turner, a Broadway actress who most recently starred in the national touring production of Rock of Ages, will be running a trip for artists.
Israel Free Spirit is part of the Orthodox Union’s Next Gen Division, led by Rabbi Dave Felsenthal. Israel Free Spirit has taken more than 10,000 individuals to Israel for the first time. This year Israel Free Spirit was awarded one of Birthrights coveted certificates of excellence.
“At Israel Free Spirit, we’re always looking for innovative programs to direct more people to experience Israel for the first time,” Rabbi Felsenthal explained.
Veingrad became Torah-observant after retiring from the NFL and now goes by his Hebrew name Shlomo. He learnt about Israel Free Spirit through a neighbor who had gone on the program.
“My neighbor’s experience was an endorsement,” he said. “When I reached out to Israel Free spirit about a sport-themed trip and how I could use my sports background and my passion for Judaism they were enthusiastic about it.”
Veingrad said his goal was to use his experiences as a jumping-off point for the trip.
“I’m hoping to develop relationship with young adults and share my experiences with them as it relates to my life’s journey,” he said. “The younger world looks at celebrities and athletes and artists and sees the failure in many of their personal lives. My own personal experience have become so meaningful and enriched by incorporating Judaism into my life and having myself on a growth plan in your learning and continuing to see the beauty of Judaism has to offer I think that the message will come across loudly because of my own experiences.”
Peter Deutsche decided to lead a trip after realizing there was a lack of political trips in the Birthright organization.
“I think there is a lot of potential Birthright participants who have an interest in politics,” he said. “This could be a unique trip for those types of students.”
“On all Birthright trips the goal is for people to connect with who they are through a visit to Israel,” Deutsch said. “We’ll meet with a number of Knesset members from a broad range from the right to the left, including Arab party members in the Knesset, to get an overview understanding of the political situation in Israel.”
This is the second trip led by Casey Turner who also starred in the Broadway production of Annie.
“Everyone on the trip had some artistic background,” she said about the trip she led last year. ”When you get a bunch of artists together you never know what you’re going to create.”
Last trip the itinerary included meeting fellow artists in Israel; visiting the Ramon school of drama and attending productions in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
All three trip leaders have high expectations for their trips.
“Birthright has a proven track record of changing people’s lives,” Deutsche said.